Her diminutive frame belied her huge heart. A third grader at the elementary school where our church has a Kids Hope USA mentoring ministry, she didn’t hesitate when I asked, What do you want to be when you grow up?
No pause to think about it. No thought of anything else. No wondering if being a mentor was actually a job, she looked me with eyes twinkling and gave me her answer, I want to be a mentor.
‘How cute . . . mimicking what she sees in us’ . . . but before you decide her motives, let me tell you a bit about the situation. We mentor in a school where over 98% of the children qualify for free and reduced lunch. (Their families exist under the federal poverty guidelines for our country, i.e. $23,050 per year for a household of four.) We mentor in a school district where 80% of its students are in the same condition and 10% of its students are considered homeless, from living in cars to living in shelters to moving in with other families.
This little girl is growing up in a setting I cannot comprehend. I see it. I read about it. I study the effects and how we might help. I pray. I speak. I serve on various coalitions and boards. I recruit and train mentors. I direct our program.
But I personally do not have a frame of reference to say I understand what it feels like to decide between buying gas to keep my job or buying groceries so my children can eat. I don’t know what it feels like to go to bed night after night without much, or without any dinner. I simply cannot understand the depth of what some of these children must feel.
And yet I see hope, I see a different future for these children. I see in her answer a window into her soul . . . people who live in poverty often know more about giving than I ever will. They know because they give out of what they need. They take others into their homes without a thought. They give out of their lack, when I would have to confess that all too often I give out of my plenty, my surplus.
This child answered as she did because it would mean giving back to someone in need. Giving, paying it forward, without a thought of what it might cost. Giving without thought of what somebody might think of her choice of a career. Giving without thought of status or symbol or power . . . rather simply wanting to grow up and give what she had, herself, and the best way she could think to do that was to become a mentor.
Perhaps the greatest mentor of all times would be Jesus with his one-on-one caring, loving, teaching, forgiving, restoring, believing in, and passing on the mantle of serving and teaching others.
Rather than scream his message, Jesus told great stories. Multi-layered stories, purposeful stories. Like the widow dropping in her small coin into a receptacle designed to allow larger coins dropped in by the rich to clank loudly, turning heads to see who put so much into the offering at the Temple. But she, unaware of anyone around her, uncaring about what anyone might think, simply offered all she had in an act of worship and love. She put in all she had, or translated more purely, she put in her whole life.
A story rarely looked at in context as Jesus’ last words in a public setting before giving everything He had . . . giving His whole life, for us.
Would that I look at Jesus as my mentor when I think about what I will be today. Will I choose to give my whole self, and everything I posses, to my Lord in an act of worship and love? Will I be part of the solution to the hunger in our city? Will I love the children more completely?
Will I be a reflection of the One who mentors me . . . ?